Ben Freeberg and TEDxAsburyPark Founder Brian Smiga talk about “Venture Capital Funny Man,” which will be presented at TEDxAsburyPark 2021.
Brian Smiga: Hi, this is Brian Smiga, your host at TEDxAsburyPark. I’ve got with me today one of our comic cohosts who’s also going to do a set at TEDxAsburyPark and is returning for his third year, Ben Freeberg. Please welcome Ben.
Ben Freeberg: Thanks so much for having me, Brian.
Brian Smiga: So Ben, you are a veteran of TEDxAsburyPark.
Ben Freeberg: It gets better every year.
Brian Smiga: Ben, I think you’re our first third-time returning speaker. So third time’s a charm. What brings you back?
Ben Freeberg: Awesome. Every year I have so much fun. The other speakers, the audience, everyone that works behind the scenes have so much fun. It really does feel like a production where everyone’s excited all year and afterward and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Brian Smiga: Great. And this time we’ve got some speakers who are relevant to your business, you’re a venture capitalist by day, right?
Ben Freeberg: Yes. I started working at Optum Ventures, which is the venture capital arm of Optum and United Healthcare. So spending the day learning about healthcare, seeing how we can solve some pretty big problems, and then at night doing some standup.
Brian Smiga: So that has got to be an oxymoron. How many venture capitalists are there in the United States? There’s probably about 5,000 total. How many of them are stand up comics?
Ben Freeberg: I don’t think too many. We actually have two of our portfolio companies that have a few folks who do some improv and stand upsets. So they might try to do that for one of our Optum CEO summits.
Brian Smiga: That’s exciting. Yeah. I think the founders, they have to have a funny bone because they’re standing up and selling, and they’re standing up and pitching.
Ben Freeberg: Oh 100%.
Brian Smiga: All the time. Hey, there’s something I’m really interested in. I’m going to challenge you. And that’s evergreen content. We’re all trying to create evergreen content that’s going to last and be relevant on the web for years. We think about that when we produce these TEDxAsburyPark talks, but what about evergreen comedy? Like I went back and looked at some of the famous TED comics, and some of them really stand up. I recommend, for example, Emily Levine who gives a TED Talk at TED 2003. I saw her live there. But how do you think about evergreen comedy? Do you have any thoughts?
Ben Freeberg: Yeah, it’s so funny you say that because I’m a very big fan of learning how the famous comics write, deliver, perform. And a bunch of the famous ones, including Jerry Seinfeld, share how when he writes, if you go and listen to his material, you could pick that up. You know, 30, 40 years ago and 20 years from now, and it’s still going to be funny because he’s purposely stayed away from reacting to new political trends or ideas or thoughts. And that’s how I’ve actually taken my approach to write. So one of my favorite 10-minute sets was about going through cancer and beating that and how hopefully we’re close to finding a cure. But I have an unfortunate feeling that it’s going to be a struggle for a while.
Brian Smiga: Okay, so just so the audience understands you had cancer at a young age of 24 years old, you beat it. Now you invest in companies that are searching for better health and the cure for cancer, and then you create an evergreen comedy about it. Is that right?
Ben Freeberg: Exactly, exactly. That’s the goal.
Brian Smiga: I always said you were a triple threat. Okay. So now you’ve shifted from being a generalist growth investor to being a health tech investor. That’s got to feel really good. And you know, we just talked previously about the four deals you’ve done and how busy you’ve been, but tell me what it means to you personally to be working in this space.
Ben Freeberg: I’m so excited to be doing it. I do think that it started when I was a healthy young guy who loved playing tennis, basketball, getting outside. And I had full health insurance, got treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering with amazing support, family, friends, and colleagues. And it was still so tough. And I think trying to help out from a venture perspective and inspiring and giving young CEOs the capital to make a change felt like the right way to do it without going to 10 years of med school.
Brian Smiga: That’s great. I mean I think that’s one of the great things about our time that we live in, and it’s that technology advancing on every front can change the world, if it’s directed to the good. I think you found your sweet spot. It reminds me of a funny story. When I did your reference check with Scott Feldman, at Susquehanna Capital, he said, as an aside, “don’t play tennis with Ben, he’s a killer.” And so I can attest to you’re pretty tenacious. I mean you beat cancer. You were a phenomenal VC in your first and second outing. Now in your third outing, you’re doing really great work at Optum, and you’re very tenacious as a standup comic. So good for you.
Ben Freeberg: Thank you.
Brian Smiga: What’s the big story in health and health technology that our layperson listeners need to know about?
Ben Freeberg: So I think the two major things I’m really excited about are one, shifting care out of the hospital. So there are a lot of companies that are figuring out a way as we move from fee-for-service to value-based care that it actually doesn’t make sense for people with a lot of specific disease states to be treated at the hospital. So how can we move them into the home, do it more cost-effectively, and actually increase outcomes with less risk of infection? I think the second is getting to a point where we’re activating the consumer. Not necessarily that the end consumer and patient is going to be the one to pay for it, even though deductibles are on the rise, but how do we actually think about them when we’re doing everything from payment to care, coordination, throughout the whole journey, not just when you get sick.
Brian Smiga: Yeah, and taking more responsibility for their health in collaboration with.
Ben Freeberg: Exactly.
Brian Smiga: Their healthcare, their hospital. I have to say for the audience, the one big thing I did and you inspired me to do this, was having tried to lose 20 pounds for 20 years despite being an everyday athlete. I finally did the 16 hour day fasting where you only eat in an eight-hour window and then the pounds just melted off me. And I found that it was such a good example of an individual, me, taking responsibility for my own health, and finally to find a technique that really worked. And I think there’s going to be many of these. Because quite honestly, I think the 16-hour fasting diet is the cure for diabetes, obesity, cancer, and many things, heart disease, that our society suffers from. So let’s go out on an upbeat note. Joy, and what does joy mean to you in your roles in your life?
Ben Freeberg: Yeah, so I think there are kind of two things here. One, I just finished this book, The Power of Moments, which was really interesting and the whole point of it was that it’s so easy for so many people in the service industry and people individually to get swept up in the continuous little fixes, and people work so hard to get all the kinks out that we forgot to put the peaks in. And you have to go out of your way to actively find that joy, that excitement. And don’t worry so much about in a hotel getting the water to the perfect temperature and making the entrance a little bit cleaner. Because people don’t remember that. They remember feeling truly special. So I think that that’s one thing.
Ben Freeberg: And then the other thing is, someone just said this to me during a pitch, a company that came in and he asked us, ‘what gives us energy?’ And we kind of thought about it and shared our thoughts, and then he asked when was the last time you did that. So if you love birdwatching and it gives you energy, when was the last time you really went out and went birdwatching? And it’s just like I love playing tennis, and in the winter in Boston, it’s hard and expensive to find a court. But if that’s the thing that gives me joy and passion. Why am I not dropping everything else to go do that more? So I think I’m going to, for the set, which I’m starting to write now, I’m going to be focusing on those two points.
Brian Smiga: What a great finale. And I say one thing that gives me great joy is talking to you and talking to other TEDxAsburyPark speakers. I’m going to do a live sign off here, let you go to your next call because I know what your life is like as an investor. You go ahead and say goodbye. Bye, and I’ll do the sign-off.
Ben Freeberg: Thanks so much.
Brian Smiga: Okay, so you heard it here at TEDxAsburyPark. This is Brian Smiga, your host of this podcast and TEDxAsburyPark, along with our other 60 organizers.
Okay. See you next time. Thanks for listening.